Ian Hislop: Privacy law is 'censorship by judicial process'

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has told parliament that the ‘chill wind’ of privacy law is preventing journalists going about their day-to-day inquiries and breaking stories.

Hislop told a Commons select committee hearing on press standards today that Private Eye had recently been served with a legal warning expressing concern that a journalist had “been approaching various parties to make inquiries”.

He told MPs: “I just give it to you as proof positive that the idea that privacy law is only indulged in by frothy celebrities and needn’t concern anyone involved in proper journalism, it isn’t true.”

Hislop also told the cross-party group of MPs that Private Eye has been banned for the past four months from publishing a story after it approached the subject for a response before publication.

“We attempted to run a story in January, we still haven’t been able to run it,” he said.

“The journalist put it to the person involved, there was an immediate injunction. Essentially it’s censorship by judicial process. It takes so long, it costs so much.

“That is a real problem and it means four months later I’m sitting on a very good story – a proper public interest story – which I cannot run and it would have been in the public domain if I hadn’t tried to act responsibly [by approaching the subject for a response].”

He added: “[Max] Mosley’s idea that you should be in jail if you don’t notify is just silly.”

Guardian News and Media editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger told the committee that he would not be appealing against an injunction banning the paper from publishing leaked memos relating to the tax affairs of Barclays Bank.

Rusbridger said it would cost about £100,000 to appeal against the ban and added: “I think life’s too short.”

He said the high court injunction was an example of how the law had failed to catch up with online publishing.

“There was this arcane discussion [for two days in court] while everyone was Twittering and linking to it because it was already out there,” he said.

Rusbridger also called for a relaxation of the Reynolds defence of responsible journalism in libel cases and a reform of the “Duke of Brunswick” rule which effectively means there is no time limit for claimants to sue for online libel.

“I think it would be a relatively simple thing to do,” he added.

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